There's something about food on TV. Whether it's the drama of The Bear on Disney+ or the discoveries in Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown on Netflix, show me a simmering saucepan or a fiery flambé and you've got my full attention. So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that one of the best films I've seen in ages turns out to be a foodie film too.
I'm talking about The Menu, which is one of the best new movies on Disney+ for February 2023. I think it's one of the best new movies full stop, and while its Rotten Tomatoes rating is just short of 80% I think it deserves more than that. It might not deserve a Michelin star, but it definitely deserves a place on your watch list.
Why The Menu should be on your must-watch menu
The Menu isn't really about food, although the food shots are almost indecent in their attractiveness. It's about greed and hubris and hypocrisy too.
The film introduces us to Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit, Peaky Blinders), who is about to embark on the culinary experience of a lifetime. Not that she wants to. She's the last-minute companion of the distinctly unsavoury Tyler, who has signed them both up for an exclusive restaurant experience on a remote island with a handful of other high flyers. It's apparent from the get-go that this is a very odd couple, but we don't find out how odd until much later.
To Tyler, Ralph Fiennes' chef Julian Slowik is a God-like figure – and as you'll discover as The Menu progresses, Slowik and his acolytes are planning some pretty Old Testament-style justice for the patrons. What starts off as a fascinating and only slightly far-fetched fine dining experience starts to become something truly terrifying.
What I love about this film, other than the superb performances from Taylor-Joy and Fiennes in particular, is that like any really good meal it works on multiple levels. It's a satire of rich-guy greed and of celebrity chef culture, it has things to say about misogny and hypocrisy, it's not afraid to be quite ridiculous and while it's often violent it doesn't revel in that violence. I also loved the fact that some of the fancy and apparently outlandish food in the film isn't invented: behind the scenes a number of celebrity chefs helped ensure the film's fictional, book-years-in-advance restaurant was as realistic as possible.
The Menu isn't a masterpiece – it gets a bit daft in places – but it's enormous and often hilarious fun. Fiennes chews the scenery while his guests chew their food, Taylor-Joy is superb as someone put in an impossible situation and everybody involved is clearly having the time of their lives. As a sharp, smart and sometimes gloriously silly satire it's deeply satisfying.